Debate over whether young girls should be watching demeaning reality shows like Love Island.
Psychologist and director at Body Matters Australasia Sarah McMahon tells Sydney Morning Herald that reality TV shows are extremely appealing to young girls because they typically present as innocent and mindless entertainment.
“It reinforces a very familiar fairytale to girls that if you’re thin, hot and sexy you’ll win your knight in shining armour and get your happy ever after, while everyone else will be doomed to misery,” says McMahon.
“When shows blatantly distil a person’s worth down to how they look, it sends a very powerful message that popularity and value are based entirely on this.
Competitions that pit one person against another, particularly based on appearance, are the ultimate offender here.”
McMahon notes that these shows present one beauty ideal, which is skewed, unrealistic and unobtainable to the average teen girl. However, teen girls can’t identify this discrepancy and so think they’re the problem.
Similarly, teen girls will identify and empathise with even the “ugliest of personalities” on the show, which ultimately reinforces the ideal that it’s how you look, not how you behave, that matters most.
“Ultimately, this means that teen girls will spend their time focused on their appearance and produce a life narrative that looks good from the outside,” says McMahon. “The danger in shifting motivation from how it feels to how it looks can result in a disconnection from self and an ongoing process of self-surveillance.”
When it comes to warning signs, McMahon notes that a significant change in teen girls behaviour, including dieting, changing friendship groups or changes in personality style should be taken very seriously.
But, could limiting viewing of reality TV also help?
“There is value in parents setting limits around exposure to these types of shows, however the most helpful thing parents can do is help teenagers critically appraise what they’re seeing,” says McMahon.
McMahon suggests talking about the narrow and unrealistic body types presented on the show and talking about how that makes your teen feel.
“Don’t let them internalise the message that not looking like the participants means that there must be something wrong with them,” she says.
Similarly, in real life, McMahon advises teaching teens to be real with themselves, particularly when trying to curate their own life on social media.
“Ask them, ‘Do you want to be the girl who exists simply to take a photo that looks good and attracts lots of likes? Or do you want to be the girl who lives in the moment and does what she actually feels like doing?'”
Should we be using them as a learning experience?
Parenting expert Steve Biddulph believes it is nothing more than “Mindless entertainment to chill to, but not harmless.”
However, many parents argue that actually sitting down and watching these shows with your children is a great opportunity to open discussion.
– “Best show to raise topics and talk through body issues, toxic relationship red flags, women friendships and betrayal, so much juicy stuff and my teen daughter didnt get defensive as it wasnt her friends or her immediate life. I highly recommend watching and critiquing.”
– “I’m all about having a conversation, watching love island with my daughter ( it’s toe curling entertainment) . It’s given us the chance to talk about things together. In fact, it’s been quite helpful.”
– “Love Island was a good education tool of what’s wrong with the world. My teenage sons and 10 yo daughter had some very meaningful conversations about what was wrong with how these people talked and acted.”
One Mum-of-two shared why she is allowing her young children to watch the popular show. Read her opinion HERE.
“It’s the 21st century and kids can access so much online these days, I believe it is better to encourage openness rather than pretend they aren’t watching it at all”
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